Camp Gone to the Dogs is the most popular summer camp held at HAWS each year. The camp is geared towards kids ages 10-14 years of age and limited to 15 campers. Campers are placed in groups of three, and each group gets a shelter dog to work with and care for the week. This summer the campers got to take care of puppies! And caring for puppies, while a lot of fun, brings with it special challenges and responsibilities other than frequent clean-up.
Puppies under 3 months of age benefit greatly from socialization to people, other animals and new things in their environment as long as it isn't overwhelming or scary, and they are allowed a choice as to whether they want to engage with whatever it is they are being exposed to.
Our campers therefore had a great opportunity to help our adoptable puppies with socialization. The fact that they spent all week with kids over 10 years who were playing, feeding and walking them allowed them to be socialized to older kids. But our campers went beyond that!
One of the things we did was have "Crazy Dress Up Day". Dogs can sometimes become very
frightened of people wearing clothing or costumes outside of what they've experienced. We told the kids to come with winter clothing (summer puppies sometimes freak out when they are adolescents and people start wearing heavy jackets, scarves and hats), different hats, sunglasses, Halloween costumes, and anything else they could think of. The kids put on their crazy clothing and spent time playing with and giving treats to the puppies.
Another thing we did was a few days of environmental socialization. We placed as many different types of things on the floor as we could think of; exercise pens laid flat, a tire, crinkly plastic - anything the puppies could safely explore walking on, over and into the objects. The campers were instructed not to force the puppies to do anything. An important part of socialization is allowing the puppy to make a choice and encourage him to be brave without pressuring him to do something he isn't comfortable with. And of course lots of cookies were given for being brave and trying new things.
HAWS camp is finished for the summer; in a few days the kids will start school, and the puppies have already gone to their new homes. But we hope the kids who attended our Camp Gone to the Dogs learned something about how to properly socialize puppies. And we know that the efforts they made during camp have created a lifetime of benefits for the puppies they worked with.